Having read the book Praying the Bible earlier this month, and having attended a conference last weekend at my church on the subject led by the book’s author, Dr. Don Whitney, and having practiced this method of Bible meditation and prayer since the beginning of the year, I’m eager to share this post which will be more than just a book review. It will be a personal testimony as well.
First, some background…
There are a number of spiritual disciplines which Christians encourage in the practice of their faith. (Dr. Whitney has a book on that subject as well.) Prayer and Bible study are among the most practiced and encouraged. While no day goes by without me engaging in some degree of prayer and Bible study, I sensed in 2015 that of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer was where I was most lacking. I prayed daily, but I knew I needed more both in quality and quantity.
When my church in Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street Baptist Church – announced late in 2015 that Dr. Whitney would be leading a weekend conference on praying the Bible at our church in mid January, I was immediately interested. It was also good timing because I finished my latest reading of the Bible and was interested in choosing a different method for my next reading of it. So I purchased Dr. Whitney’s book and read it over a couple of evenings at the beginning of the year and immediately put its teachings into practice. Two weeks later was the conference led by Dr. Whitney which greatly reinforced the teaching and provided a shared experience with many others on the practice.
Dr. Don Whitney is a Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. He travels nearly every weekend speaking and holding conferences on praying the bible, scripture meditation and biblical spirituality. He is a godly man, a great communicator, and a person whose obvious passion is for the people of God to more closely experience God in their daily lives. His writing and teaching clearly demonstrate that passion.
The book Praying the Bible is a small, 106-page book easily digested in a few hours. The concept is simple, but the impact of practicing what it teaches is quite profound.
Dr. Whitney begins the book by stating the problem many Christians have with prayer – that they don’t enjoy prayer as much as they wish they did, and that this leads to not praying as much as they think they should or as they really wish they would. Numerous times in the book and during the conference he reiterated that we tend to pray the same old things about the same old things, so we get bored and we just don’t choose to spend much time doing what we think is going to bore us.
Assuming, though, that the person really does have the Spirit of God living inside, Dr. Whitney proposes that the problem may not be the person, but the method of prayer that is boring and unsatisfying, and that a different method – praying the Bible – can be a solution to the problem. The problem isn’t so much that we pray about the same old things because our lives are made up of pretty much the same old concerns from one year to the next. The problem is more in our pattern of how and what we pray about those same old things that bores us.
If there is to be a solution to this problem, Dr. Whitney explains that it must be very simple because it must work for all Christians of all cultures and backgrounds worldwide. What is the solution? “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm” (p. 27). How do you do that? Simply go through a Scripture passage line by line and stop whenever a word or phrase stands out or a thought comes to mind that you can turn into a prayer to God. Take God’s word and turn it back to Him as a prayer. When you’ve prayed all that comes to mind about a line or verse or passage, read some more and then stop to pray again whenever a thought comes to mind that can be expressed to God as a prayer. Keep doing that until you run out of Biblical text or out of time.
The purpose of praying the Bible is not to study the Bible and intake its meaning as intended for the original hearers or readers. The purpose is not to concentrate on biblical interpretation. This practice is intended to focus on prayer, but uses God’s Word as the starting point to keep us focused on what God has already said to us. It enables us to keep from going off on tangents that surely all of us have done many times praying. It provides a biblical vocabulary and basis for what God’s Spirit will then bring to mind for us to pray back to Him. It doesn’t matter how many verses or passages you get through in a session. You just keep going until you run out of passage or you run out of time. Then you stop.
It is a remarkably simple and profound process.
Dr. Whitney highly encourages praying through one psalm daily and he provides a simple method of determining which psalm that should be in a way that exposes you over time to all 150 of the psalms. You can read a recent article he wrote on five benefits of praying the psalms here. The psalms are especially suited to use in prayers, but all of Scripture can be used this way because it is all God’s Word that can be turned Godward in prayer by any of His children anytime. In fact, I’m going through the latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible using this method and simply started at the beginning of Genesis with a goal of averaging one chapter per day praying my way through the whole Bible. It’s January 23 and I’m on Genesis 23. At this rate it will take me about 3.5 years to work my way through, but that’s OK. My desire is for the experience and not to force a condensed time frame on the experience as I have in previous annual or biennial readings that were focused more on learning the Bible.
Dr. Whitney’s book contains plenty of samples of what one might pray while reading various passages of Scripture – both from the psalms and from other types of Scripture. The chapter called “The Most Important Part of This Book” forces the reader to stop and actually do it rather than just keep reading (as much as a book can force someone to do anything). This was the practice in the conference as well when Dr. Whitney pleaded with us to be present for the first 10 minutes after a break because it would be the most important part of the conference. It was during this time that we paused to choose a psalm and privately pray through it. Our shared experience in the conference mimicked the testimonies discussed in the book. Dr. Whitney could have told us what our many reactions would be before we practiced it at the conference because he hears the same reactions everywhere he teaches the method. He shares these common reactions in the book.
One of the key takeaways from the book, the conference, and the experience of praying the Bible the past few weeks is stated succinctly in the book when it says “if you have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you have all the equipment necessary to profit satisfyingly from the Word of God and to experience a meaningful prayer life” (pp. 72-73).
The book contains other informative teachings about people who have prayed the Bible with tremendous spiritual results and even explains how Jesus must have prayed the Bible. It gives suggestions for praying the Bible with a group as well as alone.
In my personal practice of this discipline since the first of the year, I have learned and experienced several things:
- I find myself praying about so many more topics, situations and concerns than ever would have made it to a prayer list I would otherwise go by in praying.
- Some passages require a lot of time in prayer, meaning I may only pray through a partial chapter in a full hour, while other times a narrative story may not provoke many prayers at all and I’ll keep reading perhaps through multiple chapters in an hour.
- The void I felt in 2015 regarding my prayer life has vanished. This is a wonderfully satisfying time of communion and conversation with God daily.
- I still want to pray about the same old things and it’s OK to do so because they are the concerns of my heart and my loving God cares about them.
- Remembering my usual prayer concerns through a fresh method that is never the same from one day to the next is exciting and different and satisfies me far more than my previous habit of “saying the same old things about the same old things.”
I guess I’ve read through the Bible 30+ times in my life, but I’ve never prayed through it until now. This may be the most meaningful pass through God’s Word of my life to date. I am eager to continue the practice and to cherish those times daily of communication back and forth with God. He is talking to me through His Word and I am turning those words back to Him in prayers of the heart. What could be more meaningful?
If you have never read Whitney’s short, little book Praying the Bible, I plead with you to do so. You can finish it in an evening. Then practice what it says. You may just discover that your prayer life has elevated to a deeper, more meaningful level that you ever imagined.
While you’re at it, check out Whitney’s website and follow him on Twitter. If you have the chance, attend his conference or take his seminary class on the subject. This is the kind of teaching where afterward you’ll wonder “How is it that I’ve been a Christian ___ years and this is the first time I’m hearing of this?”
May God bless you in your path of following and daily communicating with Him in prayer.